It was one of the most painful nights in my memory. On the night of June 27, 2018, a whole state cried out in anguish, sending tremors from the foothills of the Ozarks to the waters of the Delta. With one out to go— one strike to go— the Arkansas baseball team could overturn years of heartache, trials, and tribulations. A long stretch in the wilderness seemed over. It’s almost funny, in a cosmic sense, that all the hopes of a fanbase rested on the trajectory of one little baseball. For one magical month, we dared to dream, and Arkansas baseball obliged, carrying us all the way to the second out of the ninth inning of the College World Series. But we all know what happened next.
There’s a certain spirit present in Arkansas, that is hard to describe to an outsider. It’s unsaid, but no matter the walk of life, you can see it in Arkansans old and young. It’s almost as if there’s an existential yearning in each of us— a choir that is comprised of 3 million voices calling out “Why not us?” I don’t think it’s fair to categorize this as “unearned arrogance” or “having a chip on our shoulders” as some would have you believe. Rather, it’s fighting spirit, determination, and most importantly hope. For one small moment, there is hope, and it’s palpable.
For one small moment we find ourselves ignoring the banality of life’s problems. Sports allow us to escape, and that escape comes with the beating heartbeat of an entire tribe behind it. Arkansans have taken this escapist, tribal lifestyle, and forged it into an identity that is deeply interwoven with the University of Arkansas. Maybe we’re never going to be the best in education, or the most economically prosperous state. Maybe we’re always going to be doomed to be seen as “flyover country” by the rest of the world. But with Arkansas sports comes that hope that for one small moment, even we can be kings.
This is the source of the pain we felt last year in Omaha. After two heartbreaking defeats to end a magical run, we found ourselves questioning if we could ever hope again. We were as close as we’d been in decades, and now felt farther away than ever. And yet, here we find ourselves again, after a sweep of the number two team in the country, hoping again.
It’s easy to get carried away by recent successes. The sweep of Mississippi State was tremendous, but it by no means guarantees that we will see the fields of Omaha this summer. If the team plays as completely as it did this weekend though, Dave Van Horn’s boys will be hard to keep out.
This is the magic of Dave Van Horn. He has taken us to Omaha five times in his tenure, and has come damn close more times than that. Each time, we find ourselves wondering if this will be the last brush with destiny. But every subsequent year, Van Horn gets his team back up, ready to shoot for the moon again. There is always a need to reload and retool, and yet, the Head Hog always seems to find a way to get the best out of his team. There’s a long way to go, and the deepest part of conference play has yet to begin, as Van Horn himself would point out. But as we clinched a series sweep this weekend, I couldn’t help but feel that old familiar hope, fluttering in my chest again.
It’s an odd phenomenon to describe to someone outside of the tribe. Sure, it’s just a game. My day to day life is not immediately affected, no. Win or lose, I get up every morning, and have to live life. But the most wonderful part of this identity being so deeply seeded in the state of Arkansas is the ability to collectively forget that mundane life, and live one of hope and joy with each Razorback victory. Last year was painful, but that does not mean this year will be— because once again, Dave Van Horn has us believing. Once again, our state can dare to dream.